Monday, July 19, 2010

Tracing History of Capitalist Deceit

Tracing history of capitalist deceit

A Fine Madness; By Mashingaidze Gomo, With a Preface By Ngugi wa Thiong'o, Oxfordshire, Ayebia Clarke Publishing Limited, 2010. 174 Pages

MASHINGAIDZE Gomo’s A Fine Madness is a book with a difference. It is a book whose value is found on every page from cover to cover. It is a book that you do not want to put down once you start reading.

However, the reader has to be fully conversant with the history of the Democratic Republic of Congo soon after independence from Belgium in 1960.

The name of Patrice Lumumba automatically comes to mind. That nationalist who became the first elected Prime Minister of the Republic of Congo in June 1960. His government did not last more than 10 weeks as it was deposed in a coup that enjoyed the support of the former colonial power as well as the United States.

Herein lies the continued desire by the US to have a grip and influence on the vast central African country.

Ngugi wa Thiong’o, who wrote the preface to the 35-part book, gives an apt comment on how difficult it is to ignore Congolese history.

He notes: "A Fine Madness is really a collage of verse and prose narrative, memories, images, thoughts and characters against the background of the 1988 Congo war following the death of the Congolese dictator Mobutu Sese Seko and the Senior Kabila coming to power.

"Kabila, a Lumumbaist was a long time foe of the Mobutu dictatorship." (p1)

Kabila himself is challenged by rebels with the backing of the West, which is suspicious of Kabila’s links with Lumumba and his leanings towards Marxism and Maoism. In a way, it is things that happened years back that determine the contemporary politics of the Great Lakes region in general and the DRC in particular.

Ngugi continues; "The poet-narrator would seem part of the Zimbabwean forces operating from and around Boende, in the Congo.

From the air and on the ground he is able to observe and contemplate the chaos in the Congo, which in his eyes also becomes the story of an Africa that has seen so much blood and tragedy." (p1) What is sickening about all this is the fact that these conflicts are not authored in Africa but have their roots in the corridors of power in Western capitals.

Memory Chirere, an academic with the University of Zimbabwe says of the book: " A Fine Madness is charmed, mad and maddening prose poetry in which an armed man snoops into Africa’s history of deprivation and strife to do the painful arithmetic.

Meanwhile, the Congo civil war rages on like a monstrous fire, eating and allowing brother and sister to get eaten by the syphilis of the West’s relentless desire to plunder . . . But . . . Africa is a stubborn hope."

The author therefore seems to be able to identify the general African problem, which the continent has been trying to shake off. Africa goes through a long period of slavery, is forced to leap into the pit of colonial subjugation and lands in continued capitalist domination in the post-colonial nation.

He writes: "And they talked about legendary white explorers who discovered an Africa that was dark and chaotic and inhabited by savage black people who needed the light of Western civilisation, democracy and Christianity/ And we read about famous white men of the cloth who facilitated dispossession and forced labour of poor African people" (p39)

The title that Gomo chooses for his book is in itself reflective of his concerns. There is an element of paradox in A Fine Madness. How can madness be fine? The author uses his first hand experience in the DRC conflict to explore the themes of horror, loneliness of war, the beauty of resistance, peace among others. Resistance, in the writer’s opinion, brings peace. He alludes to the resistance that Nehanda and her contemporaries put up against British occupation during the last decade of the 19th century.

A Fine Madness is unique in terms of style. The poet in Gomo can not be hidden and true, just as things happen spontaneously in real life, so is Gomo’s style of capturing human experiences.

The writer himself says of his style; "This is some form of artistic rebellion. There is no form book in telling of our experiences. You do it in the way you feel and hence you can not follow prescriptions.

One of the major concerns of the writer is to show the world that soldiers are also human. They have feelings and can cry.

They can also love like any other human being. This explains the presence of Tinyarei in the book, a woman to which the poet-narrator is so much attracted. Gomo wishes women do not sell their beauty to propagate European commerce. "They have accused Tinyarei of sitting on money and insisted that she should invest herself in European fashion magazines.

They have insisted to me that Tinyarei should be walking the streets of London and Paris, signing contracts that shackle her to European . . ." (pp4-5) The perception that soldiers don’t think and are tools of dictators is also demystified in A Fine Madness.

"And today’s African soldier is a man who has studied the concepts for which he fights/ and he knows Zimbabwe’s history has to be told by the spirits of the First Chimurenga who know that lessons of intolerance can be learnt from invading . . . has to be told by the descendants of the beheaded who know that no lessons on human rights and tolerance can be taken from a European community whose collective conscience is so hostile . . . " (p41)

The writer transports himself in memory from Boende in the DRC back home on several occasions. The actual geographical locations mentioned in the book, Bokungu, Goma, Manono, Mbandaka, Kinshasa, Kabalo among others, together with the names of fighter aircraft, the Alhouette III, Casa, M135 gunship all help render the narrative unparalleled authenticity.

The writer is talking about war. He brings the experiences close so the reader sees for himself that war is not good. It does not only affect the soldiers who are at the battlefront but families down the line.

The happenings around Club Fulangenge bear testimony to this. "And there were more such children around . . . some seated, some dancing around, watching their mother catching men . . . their bottoms being pinched and slapped randomly by armed men" (p31) Among the other consequences of war are the destruction of infrastructure as power and water supplies are cut plunging people into darkness and disease.

Related consequences down the line should also be highlighted. As mostly men troop to the battlefront, women and children are left at the mercy of invader forces. These are real issues like has been happening in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Gomo rightly identifies poverty as one of the major problems facing the continent of Africa. "Poverty wears the moral fabric of a society to a threadbare see-through clock through which the attractive valuables of a nation are spied on and made liable to exploitation . . . Poverty creates pimps and prostitutes/ Poverty sustains slavery/ Poverty erodes self-confidence to create a complex of inferiority and inadequacy and a sense of hopelessness" (p32).

Central in a Fine Madness is the role Western capital plays in fomenting conflicts in African countries. The DRC is not unique in this.

Renamo, the Mozambique rebel movement, enjoyed the support of apartheid South Africa, Savimbi’s Unita actually maintained chaos in Angola so that US planes could continue to fly in and plunder that country’s resources especially diamonds. Gomo writes: "armoured cars, helicopters, armed men, commandos, paratroopers and hired guns crawling into gigantic aircrafts to be airlifted to the borders of human dignity/ to the place of the skull/ To the weeping place? To prop up and hold an African civilisation together, where it was coming apart, dismantled by the insolent champions of Western civilisation . . . What was at stake was a birthright/ An African birthright!" (p17).

For Gomo, resistance breeds hope. The early resistance against colonial rule lost against imperial might. However, it is the battle that was lost but the war raged on as in later years nationalists were to draw on Nehanda’s inspiration to continue with the fight. "He talked about how most of the early fighters had been captured and executed but kept on coming, until the myopic Rhodesians had so much on their hands that they lost all initiative. (p25)

Mashingaidze Gomo was born in 1964 in colonial Rhodesia. He lived through the euphoria of independence and joined the Air Force of Zimbabwe in 1984 as an aircraft engines technician, joining 7 Squadron as an Alouette helicopter technician and gunner which saw him involved in Zimbabwean campaigns to prop up the Frelimo government in Mozambique, as well as the DRC conflict in 1998.

He completed a BA in English and Communication Studies with the Zimbabwe Open University and after retiring from AFZ, he pursued a degree in Fine Arts with the Chinhoyi University of Technology.

This is evidence that Gomo is an artist at heart. The publication of A Fine Madness, he says marks the beginning of a long road as an artist.

This book is a must-read for those who seek to correct the misconceptions peddled by Western media on the various conflicts on the continent in general and the DRC in particular.

No comments: